Uncovering Common Septic Tank Problems: Causes, Solutions, and Maintenance Tips

I am commonly asked what problems can be expected when using a septic tank. There are many common issues that septic tanks run into, many of which I have compiled in this guide. This will help guide you through any problems that you encounter with your tank.

Common septic tank problems can be caused by improper installation and lack of proper maintenance. Problems to look out for are drainage issues, leaking, and root damage. Other major issues that are common are well water contamination and water backup in areas both inside and outside of your home.

The rest of this guide will provide you with additional details on these common problems and offer some information on how you can avoid them in the future.

Septic Tank Warning Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore

There are several vital septic tank warning signs that you will need to address immediately to avoid more expensive issues in the future. These important warning signs include:

  • Water draining from your sinks, drains, and toilets very slowly, indicating a clog somewhere in the tank.
  • Sewage backing up and flooding the drains, sinks, and toilets in your home.
  • Strong, foul odor emitting from the area around the septic tank and drain.
  • Pools of water in the area where your septic tank is located.
  • Areas of grass around where your septic tank is located appear healthier and greener than normal.
  • Audible gurgling sounds from your plumbing, drains, and toilets.

If you notice any of these issues, you should immediately inspect your tank and have it serviced if possible. This will help you avoid more expensive issues in the future. Apart from these, there are several less severe septic tank problems you could encounter. These will be detailed below.

Common Septic Tank Problems

Not Installed Properly

I notice many of the issues people encounter with their septic tank begin during the installation period. Correctly installing your septic tank is vital to the proper operation of your septic system. Septic tank installation can be complicated, and a simple mistake could cause expensive issues in the future.

The biggest concern when it comes to installation is ensuring your tank complies with the standard legislation regarding septic tanks in your area. Improper installation of your septic tank could cause you legal problems involving fines and even jail time in some extreme cases.

To avoid this, it is vital that you put the area you are considering installing your septic tank to a percolation test. This will help ensure that the ground conditions in the installation area can manage the soakaway involved with septic tanks.

As long as you ensure that your septic tank is installed in a way that is compliant with the laws in your area, you will not have to worry about any legal issues down the line. If you have had your septic tank for a while, degradation is another thing to look out for.

Your Tank Is Old

Most septic tanks that you inherit from a previous homeowner will be very old. This is the most likely case if you have not purchased and installed a new tank when you moved in. In some cases, septic tanks can be over 100 years old.

Older septic tanks are much more prone to clogs, tank breaks, and other types of seal faults that can cause leaks and backups. This is due partly to their age and the lack of modern design that newer septic tanks have implemented.

There are other environmental issues that you can encounter with both new and older model septic tanks.

Pressure Of The Hydro-Static Variety

While this is a rare issue to encounter, hydrostatic pressure can build up when there is considerable water pooled beneath the tank. This can cause the tank to pop out of the ground, damaging the tank and your yard.

If this happens, you will need to address the issue as soon as possible. It is best to have this issue dealt with by a professional, as it could involve a complicated repair process to address. There are other types of damage that are common with septic tanks, including vehicle damage.

Vehicle Damage

Since septic tanks are typically installed underground, it is not always apparent where they are located in your yard. Because of this, when vehicles drive over the area of installation, the extra pressure can sometimes cause septic tanks to be crushed or displaced.

To avoid this, you should ensure that the area you have installed your septic tank is clearly marked. This will help people avoid driving over it and parking on it and potentially causing a collapse of the ground above the tank.

This is especially important if you utilize a soakaway system that keeps the ground moist around the septic tank. In addition to vehicle damage, septic tank components like the dip pipe can also become damaged and cause issues.

A Damaged Dip Pipe

If your tank has a dip pipe, there is a chance that it could have gotten displaced, causing problems with the drainage and soakaway systems. When this happens, it will fall to the bottom of the tank and will need to be recovered and put back in place.

A damaged dip pipe is a common cause of sewage backup, so it is important that you check the dip pipe if you begin to experience any plumbing issues in your home. This relates to our next topic, the lack of proper maintenance. It is important to keep up a maintenance routine to ensure your septic tank system works properly.

Lack Of Consistent Maintenance

I find that this is another one of the most common causes of problems with septic tanks. Septic tanks need regular maintenance and emptying to ensure proper functions. Because of this, it is important that you set a schedule for emptying and maintaining your septic tank.

How often you should empty your septic tank will depend on several factors. These include household size, tank size, and water usage. It is generally suggested that you get your septic tank emptied at least once every 3 years. Keep in mind this will vary depending on the factors listed above.

Keeping a maintenance routine for your septic tank can help you avoid issues and lengthen the lifespan of the tank. Lack of maintenance can lead to damage to important internal components like the baffle. This will be covered more in the next section.

A Collapsed Baffle

A collapsed baffle is a serious issue that should be addressed as soon as possible. The baffle in your septic tank is used as a barrier to ensure no large chunks are allowed into the septic tank, potentially clogging the drainage system.

If your baffle has collapsed, your septic tank’s drainage system will no longer have any protection from debris and will clog much more easily. This is a common cause of wastewater backup, so it is important to inspect the baffle if you are having trouble.

Damage to the tank is also commonly caused by tree or plant roots. This can cause extensive damage to the tank, in some cases causing the tank to need to be replaced.

Damage From Tree Or Plant Roots

When installing the tank, it is important that you choose an area that is clear from nearby trees to avoid root damage. While this can be difficult to plan for, tree roots can grow into the tank and the surrounding pipes and cause breaches and cracks.

This will damage your septic tank system in a way that could cause a full removal and replacement to be necessary. This is a costly issue and can be avoided by placing your septic tank in an area that is free from trees.

Finally, environmental issues are another common cause of septic tank problems. These issues include ground shifting and movement.

Ground Movement

Even small shifts in the ground near the area where your septic tank is installed can cause serious issues. Additional pressure on the tank from collapsed soil underground can cause the tank to be crushed or the pipes to burst.

This can lead to many of the issues listed previously, so it is important that you place the tank in an area with strong soil and not much traffic. Now that you are aware of some of the common septic tank problems, the next section will cover what to expect if your septic tank system fails.

What Happens When A Septic System Fails

When a septic tank system fails, untreated sewage and drain water will be transported through your system to places it doesn’t belong. This can cause sewer backup to pool in your yard or up through your drains, toilets, and sinks.

In some cases, the sewage leak could leech into surrounding waterways, contaminating them with harmful bacteria. If this happens, you could possibly face serious criminal charges if you do not address the issue as soon as possible.

This includes well water, ponds, and nearby marine water that may be present. A failed septic tank system will also cause general plumbing issues that can be expensive to resolve. You should regularly empty your septic tank and perform scheduled maintenance to avoid these issues.

What Are Some Common Reasons A Septic System Doesn’t Work Properly?

Pipe From The House To The Tank Is Clogged

When the pipes in your septic tank system leading to your home become clogged, this can cause drainage issues. When this happens, it is best to have your tank serviced by a professional. They will come and snake the plumbing lines to clear any clogs.

You can avoid clogging by preventing solid objects from entering your plumbing system. Tree roots can also grow into the pipes underground, leading from your septic tank, causing blockages that will need to be serviced to be removed.

Another component of your septic system that can become clogged is the inlet baffle.

Inlet Baffle To Tank Is Blocked

A blocked inlet baffle will cause many of the same issues as a clogged pipe. The inlet baffle is a barrier that keeps solid objects and sludge from entering the water system. When the inlet baffle is blocked, it will need to be serviced by a professional to resolve the issue.

Outlet Baffle Or Effluent Filter Is Clogged

Clogging of the outlet baffle or effluent filter can cause sewage backup both inside and outside of your home. This is a common sign that your tank is using more water than it can handle in a short period of time. You will need to hire a professional to locate and address the clog in your system.

Drainfield Has Failed

If your drain field fails or has taken in too much water, this can cause significant sewage backup into your home. This can also cause large pools of sewage leakage to appear in your yard. Typically, when a drainfield fails, it will need to be replaced completely to resolve the issue.

Drain fields can be damaged due to oversaturation and can sometimes dry out and need to be rehabilitated. A service technician will be able to diagnose your drain field issue and offer repair options.

How Can I Prevent A Failure

The best way to prevent a septic tank system failure is to set a routine maintenance schedule and stick to it. This includes regularly emptying your tank and inspecting it if you notice any problems with your plumbing. Avoiding excess water usage can also help lower your chances of a system failure.

You should also avoid letting any solids (like flushable wipes) that could potentially clog the pipes in your septic system from entering. Clogs are the number one cause of septic tank issues.

Can My Failing Septic System Contaminate The Water

Yes, a failing septic system can easily contaminate nearby water sources with dangerous bacteria. This is especially dangerous for those who utilize well water for drinking. Because of this, it is vital that you address any system issues as soon as possible.

Is There Financial Help For Failing Systems Or Repairs

There are several options available for financial help with your failing septic tank system. These include Craft3, which is a nonprofit organization that offers loans for repairs and maintenance. Another popular choice is the Local Health Department in your area. Finally, USDA has in place several federal home repair programs that are available for those who qualify.


There are many common septic tank problems and warning signs that you need to look out for. These include any plumbing issues that you may be noticing or large pools of water located near the area your tank is located.

Because a damaged septic tank can lead to a total system failure, it is important to address any issues you are having as soon as possible. You should contact a certified septic tank technician to inspect your tank whenever you begin to notice you are having issues.